Africa is now home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies–the terms “Africa rising” and “lions on the move” have both been used in recent years to capture the positive economic outlook for the continent. In tandem with this new economic boom, countries in the African Union (AU) have experienced explosive growth in the use of technology and the spread of information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure over the past decade and a half. About 300 million users have been brought online since 2000 due to the liberalization of telecommunications markets across African countries and the increasingly widespread availability of mobile technologies. For Africa, the technology age is booming– and shows few signs of slowing. The rapid turnaround from being a continent essentially offline in 2000, with only 4.5 million Internet users, to this level of connectivity has left African leaders scrambling to implement adequate cybersecurity policies and regulations.
In spite of the breathtaking growth of ICT use, the development of national cybersecurity legislation has been relatively stagnant in the region. Mauritius, which has legislation addressing cybercrime, e-commerce, data protection, and privacy as well as an established Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), remains a distant outlier on the continent. Countries such as Chad, Guinea-Bissau, and Gabon, which have minimal-to-no legislation addressing cyber issues, are much more typical. The AU faces the challenge of developing a common continental cybersecurity policy, which requires not just the harmonization of legislation across several economic regions but also encouraging national policy development in a majority of member states. Attaining this level of political cohesiveness–in a regional organization that consistently faces criticism of ineffectiveness–is a steep hurdle to overcome.
Africa is experiencing a unique state of vulnerability due to the absence of national legislation and international cooperation available to handle growing cyber threats. Despite this very real challenge, cybersecurity is inherently intertwined with more general trade and economic development in Africa, creating space for cooperation and consensus. The growing global recognition of the necessity for ICT and cybersecurity policies has been intertwined with AU economic policy since the early 2000s. Additionally, partnerships with the European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) that have been tied to broad regional economic development have been integral to driving both regional and national cybersecurity initiatives. If it strengthens these partnerships, the African continent has real potential to create a robust and secure cybersecurity environment.
Read more from the author of this article: Skye Terebey
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